Lt. Gov. John Husted reiterated the same message over and over – non-essential businesses must close down and essential businesses must follow safety guidelines laid out in the stay at home order. (Web photo)
Lt. Gov. John Husted reiterated the same message over and over – non-essential businesses must close down and essential businesses must follow safety guidelines laid out in the stay at home order. (Web photo)

OHIO – Since the "stay at home" order was announced on Sunday, there has been a lot of questions regarding essential businesses. During Ohio Governor Mike DeWine's daily press conference on the state's response to coronavirus on Wednesday, Lt. Gov. John Husted reiterated the same message over and over – non-essential businesses must close down and essential businesses must follow safety guidelines laid out in the stay at home order. Husted has been reiterating this message over the past couple of days.

"You need to use your own good judgment of the plain reading of that order to make your determinations," said Lt. Gov. Husted, who noted that businesses do not need a letter from the State to prove they are essential but he does recommend that businesses create a document with their justification on how they deem themselves as an essential business. He also said they should outline how they are following the safe workplace checklist mandate which can be found under Section 18 of the order. "It's incredibly important for you to go through that checklist to make sure that you are providing a safe workplace."

Husted said that businesses and individuals should not call law enforcement or the local health department to ask if they are essential or to interpret the order for them. People should, however, call to report a business that has remained open that is not essential and to report businesses that are not following the safe workplace order.

"If you're a business, be prepared," said Husted. "Have that documentation ready to provide the rationale [of how you are essential] because if you are violating this, you will get called on it either by a competitor, an employee, a neighbor, somebody will call you out and you need to make sure you are doing this the right way."

Lt. Gov. Husted repeatedly pointed to the safe guidelines in the order which reads:

18. COVID-19 Information and Checklist for Businesses/Employers. Business and employers are to take the following actions:

A. Allow as many employees as possible to work from home by implementing policies in areas such as teleworking and video conferencing.

B. Actively encourage sick employees to stay home until they are free of fever (without the use of medication) for at least 72 hours (three full days) AND symptoms have improved for at least 72 hours AND at least seven days have passed since symptoms first began. Do not require a healthcare provider's note to validate the illness or return to work of employees sick with acute respiratory illness; healthcare provider offices and medical facilities may be extremely busy and not able to provide such documentation in a timely way.

C. Ensure that your sick leave policies are up to date, flexible, and non-punitive to allow sick employees to stay home to care for themselves, children, or other family members. Consider encouraging employees to do a self-assessment each day to check if they have any COVID-19 symptoms (fever, cough, or shortness of breath).

D. Separate employees who appear to have acute respiratory illness symptoms from other employees and send them home immediately. Restrict their access to the business until they have recovered.

E. Reinforce key messages, stay home when sick, use cough and sneeze etiquette, and practice hand hygiene to all employees, and place posters in areas where they are most likely to be seen. Provide protection supplies such as soap and water, hand sanitizer, tissues, and no-touch disposal receptacles for use by employees.

F. Frequently perform enhanced environmental cleaning of commonly touched surfaces, such as workstations, countertops, railings, door handles, and doorknobs. Use the cleaning agents that are usually used in these areas and follow the directions on the label. Provide disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces can be wiped down by employees before each use.

G. Be prepared to change business practices if needed to maintain critical operations (e.g., identify alternative suppliers, prioritize customers, or temporarily suspend some of your operations).

The above guidelines are not a suggestion; they are a requirement. According to Husted, employers not adhering to this list need to halt operations.

"[Businesses] must apply the safety health standards that are in that order or they are subject to closure even if they are an essential business," said Husted. "Enforcement is coming. We can't have people who are violating this. It's not fair for one business to do the right thing in one industry sector and another business in that industry sector not do the right thing."

Husted also emphasized to businesses that these standards will be in place for much longer than two weeks.

Gov. DeWine added on Wednesday that the State is already taking action against a company that is not following the order and he said he suspects that they will be taking action against many other companies.

"Look, we hope everybody's back in business shortly but we also know that this thing is not even going to peak, we don't think, until May 1," said DeWine. "So I don't want to mislead anybody. This is not going to go away overnight. We have got to slow this thing down and the only way we slow this down is through [physical] distancing."

According to Section 15 of the order, which outlines the social distancing requirements, "essential businesses and operations and businesses engaged in minimum basic operations must take proactive measures to ensure compliance with social distancing requirements."

These measures include, where possible:

I. Designate six-foot distances. Designating with signage, tape, or by other means six-foot spacing for employees and customers in line to maintain appropriate distance;

II. Hand sanitizer and sanitizing products. Having hand sanitizer and sanitizing products readily available for employees and customers;

III. Separate operating hours for vulnerable populations. Implementing separate operating hours for elderly and vulnerable customers; and

IV. Online and remote access. Posting online whether a facility is open and how best to reach the facility and continue services by phone or remotely